Vancouver Coastal Health Overdose Outreach Team Connects People to Care

October 9, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

A small but mighty team is working tirelessly to protect people from overdose in the Vancouver region, touching countless lives in the process.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Overdose Outreach Team, made up of social workers, outreach workers and peer support specialists, helps people at risk of overdose find treatment, provides social and emotional support to people affected by substance use, and reaches out to some of the region’s most vulnerable individuals.

Each person on the team also brings an important personal perspective to their work. The team includes people with first-hand experience of addiction, experts in service navigation, and Indigenous women who build cultural knowledge and humility into the team’s efforts to meet its collective goal – connecting people with substance use challenges with care. 

However, there are often steps to take before that can be possible.

“Our work is pretty client-driven,” says Emma Gauvin, Overdose Outreach Team lead. “Whatever our client’s priority is, that’s what we do.”

This means the team helps clients with everything from finding Opioid Agonist Treatment to assisting with tasks such as housing applications or BC ID applications – key stepping stones that, as Emma highlights, help people build towards treatment and recovery.

“It can be easier for people to think about accessing healthcare services after we’ve helped them address their most pressing priorities,” she explains.

Serving a region that includes Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the the Sea to Sky corridor means these priorities can be quite diverse, Emma says. While most of the team’s clients are concentrated in urban areas, with the team working with 150-200 people each month in Vancouver alone, smaller communities have their own unique challenges.

There are typically fewer harm reduction services available in smaller communities, although that is really changing. There can also be a greater risk of stigma. Often everyone knows everyone, so it can be harder to seek help and people can be more isolated.

The team works to overcome these obstacles by bringing support to people where they need it, performing outreach services in people’s homes and to areas where people may be living without permanent homes.

The team also provides information about supports for people who want to know how they can help a loved one at risk of an overdose and works to educate service providers that may have less experience working with clients with substance use challenges.

Its efforts have led to amazing results. Between May 2017 and October 2019, the team has connected 1,373 people at risk of overdose to care or supported them to reach their goals – not counting the families, friends, loved ones and communities that feel the impact.

So much of this success grows from the team’s efforts to focus on compassion and respect for their clients in their work – an approach Emma hopes will lead to a better future for people experiencing substance use challenges.

 We really try to walk besides our clients and normalize their experience for other service providers and people in the community. I hope that this can lead people to think differently about people affected by substance use, and not write them off because of their challenges.

Are you or someone you know experiencing challenges related to substance use?

If you live in Vancouver, Richmond, Vancouver's North Shore, Sea to Sky corridor or Powell River, contact the Vancouver Coastal Health Overdose Outreach Team at 604-360-2874 for more information on support, services and treatment options.

If you live outside of these communities: 

Learn more about the Vancouver Coastal Health Overdose Outreach Team.